Camera manuals

Bearded Seal, Svalbard (A2_077787)

The mundane topics of physical camera craft are very important to master and “get out of the way”, so we can make the most of the scenes we encounter out in the world without having to stop and think everything through from scratch.
While I’m on such mundane topics: some thoughts about camera manuals.


It might surprise you to find me as a “bloke” advising you to read the manual that came with your camera. After all, that’s only for if you have a problem, right? Wrong. It’s well worth your time to sit down with the manual and the camera. But don’t make the mistake of trying to read the manual without having the camera on-hand. If you’re anything like me, the information won’t “gel” as quickly, and you’ll soon get bogged down. For example, by checking the diagrams against the camera in your hand you’ll quickly get used to the names the manufacturer uses for the various components (which is the Quick Control Dial?).

There’s lots of useful information in the manual, from how to hold the camera (a topic for another blog post entirely) through what menu selection does what, and the subtleties of the interaction of different custom functions. For example, the EOS 7D manual mentions that if you set C.Fn.II-2 to 2 (High ISO Noise Reduction: Strong) “the maximum burst for continuous shooting will greatly decrease”. I’ve had several workshop attendees wonder why their camera’s buffer was smaller than mine. Of course, expecting everyone to remember every tiny detail would be unreasonable, but do remember to check the manual if you have issues. Hopefully you’re not the sort of person who would go straight to a web forum and declare that your camera was broken before you’d checked the manual!

Find the PDF copy of your manual

Luckily most camera manufacturers make copies of their manuals available in PDF format. This means you can display it in large format on your computer screen while experimenting with your camera, and you can have a copy on your laptop/tablet/smartphone when travelling, without having to take up space with the physical manual. For example I have a PDF copy of my flash manuals in my phone, as by the time I get around to a situation where I need to change the cryptic Custom Functions in the flash I’ve usually forgotten which one does what.

Read the manual, but do have a pinch of condiment handy

The manufacturer will generally provide “safe” advice on camera technique, and often it is excellent advice. However, as you gain experience you may find “better” techniques to suit you. This is great, but make sure you’ve understood the manual’s advice before you decide to ignore it!

One simple example relates to your camera strap. Many straps (including those from Canon and Nikon) have the same mechanism to attach to the camera: a 3/8″ webbing strap. But I think most new camera owners simply rip the plastic off the strap in the box and then fumble through threading it onto the camera until they find something that seems to work. Both Canon and Nikon do provide useful diagrams relating to this in their manuals!

Diagrams excerpted from the 7D and D700 manuals.

While I have camera bodies from Canon and Panasonic, I prefer the technique shown in the Nikon manual. In fact I use straps from OpTech, but this technique does work fine with the Canon straps, and is just a little bit neater. But even the Canon suggestion is neater than some of the haphazard arrangements I’ve seen.

And why does “neater” matter? Chiefly it’s so that the strap doesn’t catch on things and get in the way of your taking photographs. After all, why do you have the gear in the first place?

Lenses too!

Incidentally, it’s not just cameras which come with manuals. Lenses also typically come with manuals (the manual for “kit” lenses is often an appendix of the camera manual). I’m a strong proponent for using a lens hood “almost always”, but I see lots of people struggling with getting the hood on and off. Just check the manual’s advice (usually it can be summarised as “lining up the dots”) and be careful to not distort the hood by squeezing!

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